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Tag Archive: Just Ask Jack

Just Ask Jack: Fighting the Wind?

Jacob sent in the following question:

I’d be curious to know what you guys do to deal with wind. Are there good tips for how to ride during a stiff wind? Do you take the car when the wind gets above a certain speed?

Well, Jacob…wind can be tough, there’s no doubt about that. We don’t have much in the way of winter weather, but from December to May, the wind is a fairly constant thing here in Florida. And, just my luck…it’s almost always a headwind. I don’t own a car, so I can’t comment on whether I would use one if the wind was too high. I’ve ridden in some pretty stiff winds, including the 1993 “No Name Storm” and the runups to several hurricanes along the Gulf Coast. It’s certainly not something I’m a big fan of, but when you’ve got to get to work there’s sometimes no choice but to get out there and ride.

I asked several fellow cyclists if they had any solutions to offer, and overwhelmingly I was met with a bunch of good-natured ribs to “HTFU” (warning: excessive salty language) or “put your head down and deal with it”. That doesn’t really help us much, though…

So, what can we commuters do to help beat back the wind? There are two major “tricks” in a cyclist’s arsenal, one mostly impractical for day-to-day riding and one that’s fairly easy and long-used for just this sort of thing.

Let’s look at the first solution — the fairing:

fairing

I say that this is mostly impractical because a recumbent is not often a good choice for a commuter bike (too low-profile for motorists to see at reasonable distances), and I’ve not seen fairings for traditional bicycles. Still, these fairings do a pretty amazing job at getting you through the wind with less effort.

The second solution is right up my alley…the traditional road “drop bar”:

drops

Let’s face it — there are a lot of “commuter-friendly” bikes on the market such as Dutch-style upright citybikes, hybrids and comfort bikes with the features many commuters look for in a primary machine. But, they can be TERRIBLE to ride in stiff winds. That upright position — otherwise great for getting a good view of conditions around you — turns your body into a wind-catching sail. Enter the traditional road handlebar: multiple hand positions for all-day riding comfort, including a couple of positions that get you tucked in and out of the wind’s worst. Aerodynamic positioning is key for spending a lot of time riding in wind, and drop bars get you closer to that ideal position.

Many flat-bar or upright bikes can be converted to a drop-bar configuration, but it’s not always an easy proposition…since the bar diameters differ between flats and drops, you can’t just swap your brake levers and shifter pods over. Luckily, road-style brake levers are readily available (my favorite are the Tektro R200A), and if you replace your shifter pods with friction bar-end shifters, you can run just about any combination of derailleurs and cassette or freewheel, mixing brands as you see fit.

A couple of other tips come to mind. The first is clothing choice. Although many commuters are reluctant to wear cycling-specific gear, there’s a reason cycling wear is form-fitting — it doesn’t catch the wind the way street clothes might. Something to consider, in any case.

The second is route choice. If you have a commute where you can choose your route from several possibilities, a good choice is one that gets shielded from prevailing winds by treelines, buildings and the like. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but a little creative route planning can definitely help. Even a short break from the wind can make a huge difference in the amount of energy you expend.

Remember, there is a benefit to the wind…you WILL get stronger if you have to fight it on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid to tough it out…your legs, heart and lungs will thank you for it eventually!

Finally, if you really want to dominate against that wind, here’s the vehicle for you:

aero

It’s able to slice through headwinds like a hot knife through butter…but hang on in a crosswind — you’ll be in for a wild ride!!!

Stay safe out there, and try some of these tips the next time you find yourself fighting against the wind.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack: Bike Pooling?

Here’s an interesting one sent in by longtime reader Phil:

So, this afternoon, a co-worker and sometime bike-commuter and I were talking about riding/commuting and car-pooling. I suddenly thought, why not bike-pooling? This lead to wondering about numbers of riders “bike-pooling” to work via tandems or the likes. People living along the same route to work could “share” a tandem.

I’ve heard of “commuter trains”, where folks gather at a convenient starting point and riding en masse to their job(s), but haven’t run across anyone doing the tandem number. Anyone experienced such a thing? Good idea or not? I would imagine various logistics would need to be ironed out — work start/stop times would have to mesh between the two participants, among other things.

Let’s hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack — Beating the Stink?

Phil sent in the following question:

Could you post an article or question on how to clean polyester bike jerseys? I use bright neon green jerseys from Performance and DeFeet unDshirts (however that’s spelled) and they’re starting to get, um, aromatic – despite regular washing.

Ah, synthetic fibers…the same wonder fibers that help channel sweat away from us while we ride are also notorious for retaining body odors. Under high magnification, you many notice that many of these fibers are hollow or shaped with a lot of surface area, leaving plenty of space for odor-causing bacteria to hide. A well-used jersey or other synthetic-based athletic garment can become pretty ripe, and normal washing sometimes isn’t enough.

So what can we do? While I’ve never had this problem with cycling jerseys, I have experienced it with synthetic backpacking layers (under layers and mid-weight warmth layers). Perhaps hiking far away from showers contributed to the accumulation of “funk”…but I discovered that a good airing out in a sunny location can do a lot to combat these odors.

I asked some of our fellow staff members here if they had particular techniques worth sharing: RL soaks his stinky clothes in a bucket full of water and dishwashing soap for an hour or two prior to the normal washing, and he has had good success with this. Noah offered two techniques. The first is soaking the clothes in a very hot water and baking soda solution (half a cup of baking soda) for 10 to 20 minutes, then a normal wash. Noah suggested not to rinse the baking soda out of the offending clothes prior to washing — extra contact time is probably a good thing. His other technique is normal washing but a trip into the dryer on high heat, preferably in a small load or by itself. I’m a bit skeptical of that method, as some synthetics do not survive well in a high-heat environment.

One thing not to do is to use fabric softener liquids or sheets to make the offending clothes smell better. The oils and perfumes in fabric softeners will clog the moisture-wicking pores of the garment, ruining the effectiveness of that performance fabric.

One other suggestion I got from one of my bike club friends was to “wear wool” — wool is naturally antibacterial and has a pretty amazing ability to ward off four odors, even when worn for a couple days straight without washing. I have a wool jersey and I can proudly say it never stinks…but then again it is more of a cool-weather garment. Wool and 95 degrees plus 80% or more humidity is not a good combination in my book.

There are a variety of specialty fabric washes on the market that claim to eliminate built-up odors, but I’ve never tried any of them. Some of the common brands are ReviveX and “Sink the Stink”.

Bicycling Magazine recently had an article about this very problem…there are a few other tips that may be of use in that article, too. Check it out by clicking here. While you’re over there, check out their featured article titled “Commit to Commute“. You might recognize a few names in there!

If anyone else has tried-and-true tips on beating the stink, we’d love to hear them. Just put them into the comment area below.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack — What Bike Do I Buy?

We get a lot of “which bike do I buy?� questions submitted to us…a LOT. While we absolutely love to help guide bike purchasers toward suitable commuting bikes, this is an incredibly difficult question to answer without relying on a bunch of generalities…with dozens of great commuter bikes and literally hundreds of other bike models on dealer floors at any given time, there’s a lot to wade through, especially for the novice bike enthusiast.

bike mountain
(image borrowed from jugsi.com)

So, I thought it would be a good idea to distill some of those generalities down into a handy “starter guide� for folks to use. I won’t be naming any specific brands or models – that’s not the point of this exercise. Rather, this is intended to get bike shoppers thinking about what they need and expect out of a new bicycle.

Many people go into the bike purchasing experience with only one thing in mind: price. Price is important, of course, but it is only one of many aspects to be considered when selecting a new bicycle; different needs require different features.

Generally, when asked “what bike do I buy?�, I answer the question with a series of my own questions. In no particular order, they are:

–What is my price ceiling?

–Do I plan to use the bike for recreation purposes as well as commuting?

–How long is my commute?

–Is my area flat or hilly?

–Do I plan on hauling books, groceries or other cargo every now and then?

–How comfortable am I with the various gearing and braking systems on modern bicycles?

As you can see, the answers to those questions help narrow the field down – a sleek fixed-gear or singlespeed road bike might be great for a fast, flat long-distance commute but terrible at hauling groceries and children around town, while a sturdy, clunky “grocery getter� would be great for around-town utility purposes but might not be suitable for some recreational uses. Complicated gearing and braking systems might be daunting for the novice bicyclist and utterly unnecessary for someone in a flattish urban environment.

Concerning the price ceiling – be flexible with this. A little more money can mean a lot better of a bike. If this means putting off your purchase for a few more weeks to save up some extra dollars, do it…but don’t forget that a more expensive bike does not mean a more suitable bike for you, merely that it probably has better-quality parts and accessories than a lesser-priced model.

One of the best pieces of advice we can give folks shopping for a new bike is to check out their local bike shops. Walking in and saying, “I’ve got X dollars to spend…what do you have?â€? is an exercise in futility. But, prepared with the answers to the above questions, you and your local shops can help pinpoint something that’s actually suitable for your needs. Still, any old local shop won’t do – they must understand your needs and be receptive to letting you try different models at different price ranges. No one likes the “hard sellâ€? – if a dealer is trying to push you toward a specific model that doesn’t do EVERYTHING you need a bike to do, you’re probably in the wrong shop and should exit gracefully! Visit as many shops as you can…this gives you the opportunity to test and evaluate a whole range of different bikes (and find a trustworthy shop in the process).

The other critical piece of advice we like to share is this: buy the bike that you look forward to riding…comfortable, pretty, feature-packed, whatever. Being excited to ride your new machine is half the battle…and you’re far less likely to be excited by something that doesn’t feel good or doesn’t do what you need it to do.

Buying a new bike is a daunting process; there’s no doubt about that. Arming yourself with some answers and a bit of personal research under your belt can make the whole thing a lot easier to stomach.

Perhaps our readers have some additional considerations for the new bike shopper they’d like to share? If so, have at it in the comments section.

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.

Just Ask Jack: Lock Considerations?

I got an email the other day from Jeff Baldwin, a professional locksmith and fellow bike commuter from up in Morristown, New Jersey. In an effort to better serve his customers who ask about good bike locks, he was hoping to get a little input from our readers.

lockpile

Specifically, he would like some input on which locks have worked well (or poorly) for you folks out there. Have you spent a lot of money on a lock, only to find your bike missing when you went to retrieve it? Also, when purchasing a lock, is convenience and portability part of the equation, or do you stick with the most bulletproof lock you can find? Sometimes the two don’t go hand in hand…I favor a big hardened steel chain with attached padlock or disc lock, but I do NOT relish carrying that behemoth around!

We’ve talked about lock strategy a little bit before…and any tips and tricks you might have in this area would be beneficial.

In any case, other considerations/personal observations and stories you’ve had will be greatly appreciated by Jeff, who will take our input and possibly be able to write up a comprehensive article for the trade journal published by the Associated Locksmiths of America (in addition to better guidance for his customers). You’ve done great for us, dear readers — always ready to lend a hand in developing information to better the bike commuting community. Let’s see what you’ve got!